Snipping Arrogance out of the Old Operating System of Education

Everyone you ever meet knows something you don’t.
–Bill Nye

My uncle spent his career as a gym teacher. He was one of those teachers that could get kids to do more than they thought they could do themselves…he always had kids in the gym doing something. The kids that went to the gym to hang out before or after school were the ones that were frequent flyers in the principal’s office, in other words the trouble makers. Not bad kids, just kids that occasionally did not so smart things. We all know these kids because we have had them in class too!

At one point in my uncle’s career he bought a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. I believe he thought it was a good idea at the time. One day in November he decided to drive the motorcycle to school…again, I think he thought it was a good idea at the time. I have to mention that the school he worked at was in the northern part of Pennsylvania and susceptible to lake effect snows from Lake Erie…an important fact for the rest of this story. Well, on this particular day a snow squall did in fact come across the area and made driving his motorcycle 20 miles home a really bad idea. Getting a ride home with a friend was not going to be a problem…the problem was what to do with the motorcycle. You and I can probably sit down and brainstorm a lot of different possibilities for him to do with the motorcycle. He could have put it in the maintenance shed, driven it to a teacher’s house that was less than a mile from the school…there are just a lot of different ways he could have gone to solve the problem of what to do with his motorcycle. What he chose to do was interesting, and something that a teacher could do in 1991 but probably not today. He asked one of his kids that hung out in the gym (you know, the ones that were always in the principal’s office) to drive it home to store until the storm went away. Great idea.

Well, about two hours after my uncle got home from school he received a phone call from the father of the student who rode the bike home. The father was furious. Mad. Out of his mind. He apologized to my uncle for his son stealing the motorcycle and that his son was telling some cockeyed story of how the teacher let him drive the motorcycle home. My uncle confirmed the cockeyed story and verified the story to the dad. The dad was relieved that his son was not a motorcycle thief, but he also had one question for my uncle which was, “Why did you ask him to drive your motorcycle?” My uncle’s answer to this question exemplifies the last characteristic of the new operating system of education.

The answer my uncle gave was, “I trust him”. Trust. Trust is borne from humility. Humility allows people to go through life with wonder and curiosity. Ego does not get in the way of someone that exhibits humility. Unfortunately, the old operating system of education is characterized by arrogance. Arrogance that there is “one right answer”. Arrogance that you can measure the worth of someone by a test score. Arrogance that all of the answers to any problem facing a school can be “fixed” by researchers or policy makers from the university or Washington DC. This arrogance becomes entwined in the DNA of schooling, infecting teachers and leaders that are not reflective enough to think about what is happening.

My uncle had enough humility to see beyond the student’s rap sheet in the office. He allowed himself to see the good in the student. He respected the student for the future possible good deeds the student would display. Imagine if all of us in education took the time to have that wonder and curiosity about every learner. Better yet, imagine of the system encouraged (or allowed) educators to have wonder and curiosity about their learners. Taking arrogance out of the operating system is a good place to start this journey.

To test whether your school encourages humility, answer these three questions.

  1. For teachers: Do you enter the task of creating learning experiences knowing that there are things you do not know?
  2. For administrators: Do you allow Learners (or your staff) to figure things out on their own?
  3. For teachers and administrators: How do we find the courage to empower Learners and staff?

In this blog series, I have tried to lay the foundation for a new operating system of education. An operating system based on hope, love dignity and humility. Although there is much more that I can write to explain the new OS further, my hope is that I have given you enough information to make you think and act. Any small step toward changing the operating system is a brave step and I commend all of you ahead of time who will show that courage.

Now, go start the change!

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About Tom Butler, Ph.D.

I believe that public education is for the public good and that education should be uncompromisingly learner-centered. The New Learning Ecosystem points us away from the old model of education that does not serve kids well. All educators regardless of where they work can help lead and contribute to the New Learning Ecosystem.
View all posts by Tom Butler, Ph.D. →

1 thought on “Snipping Arrogance out of the Old Operating System of Education

  1. Great and powerful story, Tom. Connecting is key to developing intrinsic motivation and trust is the basis of connection.

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